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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.

EMERSON, J. Hannibal

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Ancestry: https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/75376621:60525?tid=&pid=&queryId=e1346040d4dc928724ce47ac98552507&_phsrc=HEg417&_phstart=successSource

EMERSON, J. Hannibal. (Virginia, June 20, 1807--Dubuque, IA, Sept. 1875). MAYOR. After coming to the city on April 1, 1834, Emerson entered into business as part of the mercantile firm of EMERSON AND SHIELDS that later became Gilliam and Emerson. (1) He served as a member of the constitutional convention that wrote the Iowa Code. (2)

J. H. Emerson was elected mayor in April, 1850. At this time an ordinance giving justices of the peace concurrent jurisdiction with the mayor was passed. The smallpox was here again in 1850, but was checked at once. Large quantities of fresh lime were scattered throughout the city in 1850 and all public places were cleansed. The powder house was ordered sold at public auction to the highest bidder in August, 1850. (3)

Four public cisterns were ordered built for protection against fires. (4)

The canal committee recommended in 1850 a steamboat channel from Lorimier furnace to Eagle Point through Lake Peosta and the sloughs. The committee reported against a boat canal from the main channel across the sloughs and islands to the city shore proper — boats would have to go back after coming in.The council ordered 600 copies of the report printed and distributed. The committee recommended a channel 100 feet wide and four feet below the low water standard of Captain Barney. The total excavation was to be 279,190 cubic yards; length of improvement, 24,220 feet; cost of dredge, $8,000: two flatboats, $300; channel to be extra wide in places to permit boats to pass each other; the channel to skirt closely the inner shore line of Dubuque; distance by river from Lorimier furnace to Eagle Point, 25,800 feet; shortening of the line would cause a quicker current; stagnant water in the sloughs would be drained. It was estimated that $20,000 must be raised to make this improvement, either by subscription or taxation ; completion of the canal would advance property at once 25 percent. At this date the steamboat arrivals were about 200 annually. With a charge to each of only $5 for each landing the wharfage would amount to $1,000 yearly. (5)

         Shall our city three years hence be without a harbor 
         and out of debt or shall we, by creating the debt, 
         construct a harbor worth $250,000 the moment it is 
         completed? Without a harbor or any facilities to 
         overcome the want of one, at an objectionable distance 
         from the bank of the river and this bank separated 
         from the main river by a series of sloughs often too 
         shallow for steamboats, Dubuque has nevertheless derived 
         her existence and growth from the navigation of the
         Mississippi. With these difficulties she has had 
         constantly to struggle and by such efforts she has 
         attained to sufficient size and capital to command a 
         harbor of unsurpassed excellence." — (Express, September 18,
         1850; Report of the Harbor Committee.) (6)

An election was ordered in 1850 on the question of borrowing $20,000 for use on the steamboat channel from Lorimier's up to EAGLE POINT. The vote was — for the loan 315. against the loan 14. A harbor tax was ordered levied to meet the $20,000 authorized for harbor improvement. Abel Hawley was the contractor for the steamboat channel. It was found necessary to buy for $10,000 a large dredge boat to be used on the proposed steamboat channel. (7)

In April, 1850, the citizens voted down the proposition to secure a loan of $10,000 for harbor improvement.

         We announce the defeat of this measure as we do the 
         death of a friend — briefly and sorrowfully. On the 
         first day of April, a majority of the citizens of 
         Dubuque decided that they would have no harbor unless 
         someone would make it for them." 
         (Miners' Express, April 3, 1850.) (7)

The WESTERN HOTEL was burned in April, 1850; the city was without fire apparatus or fire organization. Six fire ladders and four fire hooks were bought in November, 1850. A meeting of the citizens was held and a fire company was organized calling itself the "Hook and Ladder Fire Company." D. Murphy was granted the privilege of mining in the graveyard upon paying to the city one-fifth of the mineral raised. M. McNear was allowed the same privilege on Fifth street. In 1850 H. S. Hetherington built four cisterns for the city and was paid $121.50. A group of citizens of Dubuque and adjoining counties petitioned Congress for a military road to run from Dubuque to Fort Clark on the Des Moines River. (8)

Other events which occurred in 1850 may be accessed by writing 1850 in the search facility for this encyclopedia.



1. "Dubuque Sought Business Methods From Beginning," Telegraph Herald, March 27, 1921, p. 14. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=bi5eAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SmANAAAAIBAJ&pg=6644,4092622&dq=james+fanning+dubuque&hl=en

2. "Death of J. Hannibal Emerson," Dubuque Herald, September 21, 1875, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18750921&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-10-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.